When the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

The opening words introduce the one practicing Dharma. The Prajna teachings were spoken by the Buddha during the fourth stage, his purpose being to guide those practicing what later became the approach of the Theravadins toward the practice of Mahayana Dharma. Whoever practices according to the Lesser Vehicle practices virtuous conduct and Dharma primarily to benefit oneself. The Mahayana practice, on the other hand, is aimed to benefit both oneself and others. To liberate all sentient beings implies concern for the well-being of all people. Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara was chosen to demonstrate to the persons of the Lesser Vehicle mentality the full dimension of the Mahayana doctrines. The name Avalokitesvara lends itself to several interpretations. The Chinese translation--i.e., Guan Zi Zai,--means the attainment of the Bodhisattva stage and the causal-ground for practicing Dharma.

Why did we, the Chinese, choose to call the Bodhisattva Guan Zi Zai? Because he attained the fruition of the path. Visualizing and contemplating the name, we come to understand its meaning.Guan means to observe and to illuminate. The one who practices the Bodhisattva path not only illuminates his or her own mind but the world as well; and practicing in this manner, one can be sure of obtaining liberation. That is what Guan Zi Zai means.

What is the meaning of Zi Zai? The one who is able to halt the two kinds of birth and death and the five fundamental conditions of the passions and delusions can be called Zi Zai. To observe oneís own self is to discover body and mind bound by the five skandhas and the six organs with their corresponding six kinds of data; we are not free and, therefore, not Zi Zai.

The name Avalokitesvara comes from the ground causes of the Bodhisattvaís Dharma practice while on an island, perceiving the sounds of the world, rooted in time as they are, rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the ocean. From the sound of the tide rising and falling, the Bodhisattva attained Enlightenment, perfectly and completely comprehending the Dharma of birth and non-birth.

Someone asked how and why the Bodhisattva attained the Tao and became enlightened by observing the ebb tide? The Bodhisattva, while practicing by the sea, contemplated the sound as it increased, decreased and then came to a full stop, occurring simultaneously with the ebb tide. He pondered the root of all causes and finally attained Enlightenment by understanding that all existence is subject to birth and death and, therefore, is impermanent. However, the hearing itself is timeless; hence, it is beyond birth and death. Those without practice can hear, but they do not listen. While hearing the sounds, they only think of the outside; however, although the sound of tide has birth and death, the nature of hearing does not. And why not? Because even when the sound of tide stops, our capacity for, or nature of, hearing does not. We can still hear the wind in the branches of a tree, the songs of birds and the shrill sound of the cicadas. Had our capacity for hearing vanished with the sound, we should not be able to hear ever again. Even when all is quiet late at night, we are aware of silence, or non-sound, because of our capacity for hearing. In reality, there are two kinds of hearing: One comes and goes in response to stimulation; the other functions independently of it. Thus, we can safely say that although sounds have birth and death, the hearing capacity does not. It actually never vanishes. All existence, including dharmas, is impermanent and, therefore, subject to birth and deathójust like magic, like bubbles or like shadows. The nature of hearing, on the other hand, can never be destroyed.

In this manner, we come to know the bright and accomplished nature of hearing. Our mind accords with whatever we observe: If we observe birth and death, there is birth and death; and if we observe non-birth and non-death, there is no birth and no death. All things are produced by the mind; they are completed through contemplation. Everyone has a mind and, consequently, a potential to formulate the world according to his or her own intentions, but without effort one will not succeed. Nature is the substance; mind, the function. The function never separates from substance, nor the substance from the function. Function and substance, though separate, are causally connected. Nature governs the mind, and the mind is natureís function; they mesh. Although both retain their own character, they are inseparable. Dharma practice can start right at this point. One needs only to understand oneís mind, see oneís True Nature, and, following that, attain the Tao.

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara practice makes one listen to and be mindful of oneís own nature and, by means of listening, attain the wonderful function. Listening to oneís own nature has no boundaries, and it can accommodate all sentient beings while saving them. We worldlings only react to or become concerned about what we construe to be external, or outside, sound. Negligent of our True Nature, we hardly ever try to listen to it, and our hearing is partial as a result of it. However, when we listen to our own nature, our listening is not delimited by time. Perceiving oneís nature thus, oneís listening is complete and continual; and oneís joy and happiness are permanent.

When phonetically transliterated into Chinese, the Sanskrit word Bodhisattva produces two characters: Pu Sa or Bo Sa. Bodhi (Pu or Bo in Chinese) means the perfect knowledge or wisdom by which a person becomes a Buddha. Sattva (Sa To in Chinese) stands for an enlightened and enlightening being, which is to say that a person has already enlightened his or her own nature by freeing himself or herself from birth and death and helps other sentient beings to do likewise. Worldlings, however, hold on to feelings and disregard or oppose the Doctrine. Confusion and frustration take them through the samsaric suffering of the cycle of existence. To perceive oneís Self-Nature by listening is the Bodhisattvaís way out of the round of birth-and-death.

The first line of the Sutra, then, informs us that Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is the appointed practice leader of the Prajna Assembly. He is going to teach us how to follow his Dharma practice and establish the mindfulness of listening to our Self Nature.